Index

Sundays
Third Quarter
2018

 

J Nichols Adams et al

August 26, 2018, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 21, Proper 16

 

 

LectionAid 3rd Quarter 2018

August 26, 2018, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 21, Proper 16

Fair Weather Followers

Psalm 84 or Psalm 34:15-22, 1Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 or Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69

Theme: A Difficult Teaching

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

Jesus reinforces a non-literal interpretation of his teachings in verses 61-63, where he speaks of the flesh as useless and the spirit as giving life. The dichotomy between "flesh." and "spirit." is a theme in John, whose writing is full of stark contrasts: light and darkness, flesh and spirit, below and above.
While on the human level it is disappointing when believers fall away, God already knows this will happen, nor is it any surprise to Jesus. The sovereignty of God is such that no human failing can thwart God's plans for Jesus to carry out his salvific mission. Verses 64-65 assert Jesus' confidence that God will sustain in faith those whom God has called. This is a faith corrective to the overwhelming disappointment we sometimes feel when believers lose their faith or their nerve or their sense of commitment to the cause of Christ. And it speaks in a broader sense to many disappointments we feel when others fail us or let us down. God is in control, and God will bring to pass what God wills, despite human reluctance or failure.
This is an important word of hope to leaders in our congregations. And this includes practically everyone, though this is different from Garrison Keillor's description of Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average!" It really is true to say that, in the different roles we play, we all are leaders from time to time: parents, teachers, team leaders, volunteer leaders, elders, deacons, business executives, doctors, nurses and other health care providers, government workers, neighbors. In all these many roles we find others looking to us for guidance. And people will readily follow when things are going well. However, fair weather followers fall away when the going gets tough. When sacrifice, or loss, or unexpected challenge, or difficult, unwanted or misunderstood messages confront them, some will shrug and walk away.
The world is full of Fair Weather Fans. We all come and go in our loyalty even our loyalty to God. To be loyal even in bad times is a different kind of loyalty. Over the last few years after the retirement of Payton Manning as a loyal fan of the Denver Broncos it has been hard. We have no real quarterback and our vaunted pass rush seems to have stumbled and fallen to the side. It was so wonderfully easy to be a loyal fan at the 50th Super Bowl when we played against the Carolina Panthers. My loyalty never waivered even though I was sitting next to a very, very loud know it all Panther fan. As the seconds towards the end of the game ticked by suddenly he had gotten up and left the stands. I suddenly realized that my team was going to win even though the confetti had not fallen. For a fan that was suddenly a wonderful never to be forgotten moment. That was the easy part. For the last two years there has been nothing but disappointment.
Parents know the many times when life perspective and experience give them hope when their children become discouraged by a big disappointment, a tough learning experience, or a difficult subject in school. Parents sometimes have to insist that children follow a certain course that the child cannot understand or accept. Only the perspective of age and experience gives the parent the knowledge that staying a certain course will pay big dividends. It must have been an amazing challenge for Jesus to communicate his mission to his disciples. Over and over he told them that he would have to pay the ultimate sacrifice to accomplish his purpose, but they only dimly understood him. Only after his death, and in the afterglow of his resurrection appearances, could they begin to grasp what he was about.

Exegetical Comments

Eventually, the lectionary brings us around to difficult teachings— teachings difficult not only for us, but difficult for the first ears that heard them. It is good for us to acknowledge that faith involves, at times, trust with only limited understanding, since we are trying to perceive things that pertain to God from our limited human perspective. It is helpful to remember the Reformed belief that "scripture interprets scripture." Before we are too baffled by a text, we must consider its context, its background, its linguistic elements, and the context in which the lectionary committee has chosen to place it. All these considerations can help us in interpretation.
This reading is near the end of a long chapter in which bread is the governing metaphor. Beginning with the acted parable in John 6:1-15, the feeding of the multitude, the action moves to the distant side of Galilee, where Jesus has gone with his disciples (and in the night has walked on water, reassuring the frightened disciples with the words "It is I; do not be afraid." v. 20) There, at Capernaum, they are met by a crowd who have boated across in pursuit of them. Jesus chides them for seeking him only because they had their fill of bread and exhorts them to "work for . . . the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." (v. 27) He follows this statement with a parallel idea, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (v. 29) This is a pivotal verse, because it helps us understand what he means later when he speaks figuratively of eating his body and drinking his blood.
The crowd then asks whether Jesus will feed them like God fed the wandering Hebrews in the wilderness with manna. Jesus promises that God will provide for them something better: "the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." (v. 33) When they ask for this bread, Jesus answers with one of the many "I am." statements peppered through this gospel: "I am the bread of life . . . " (John 6:35) "Bread of life." is one of many metaphors used by Jesus, according to John. Others are "the light of the world." (8:12, 9:5) "the gate." (10:7, 9) "the good shepherd." (10:11, 14) "the resurrection and the life." (11:25) "the way, the truth, and the life." (14:6) and "the true vine." (15:1, 5) Bread is the governing metaphor of this chapter, and illustrates the theme that Jesus himself is the nourishment God is providing to faithful believers.
The whole chapter has clear eucharistic application and reference. All this talk of bread that endures to eternal life must have been hard to grasp for ears that did not yet comprehend how Jesus would give his life on a cross, and literally give his body and blood. Even more difficult, then, is the hard saying at the beginning of today's gospel that caused many to fall away "those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them." (v. 56) Notice the first three verses overlap with last week's gospel reading (6:51-58) as a kind of summary. The context has shifted: Jesus is no longer speaking to the crowd who pursued him across Tiberias; now he is in the synagogue at Capernaum (vss. 41 and 59)
Then the audience shifts again, at verse 60 of the present reading, to his disciples. A crisis occurs: the difficulty of comprehending and accepting Jesus' talk about eating his flesh and drinking his blood becomes a stumbling block. Those who take it literally are offended and fall away. But we must go back to the pivotal verse mentioned earlier, verse 29, where Jesus describes the work of God as "believing in the one whom he has sent." Now it seems clear that "eating, ""believing, "and "abiding." (v. 56) are all related ideas: to eat the flesh of the Son of Man means to believe in the one whom God has sent. To eat his flesh and drink his blood is to be nourished by the bread sent down from heaven, the bread that makes for eternal life. As is typical in John, the metaphors cascade down upon one another in a kind of fugue: all are playing on the same theme and variations!
Nevertheless, disciples who take his words literally are offended and fall away. There is a real poignancy when Jesus turns to the twelve and asks, "Do you also wish to go away?" (v. 67) Two powerful preaching opportunities arrive here: one to connect with the frustration of listeners who have been misunderstood or have struggled to communicate a difficult concept and not quite connected, and the other the loneliness of leadership. The preacher can ask "Have you ever struggled to communicate something to your children, or your coworkers, or your family, and felt that they just weren't getting it? Or that they got it, and didn't like what they got? Or that the challenge was just a bit more than they were prepared to endorse, and so you lost their loyalty?" While last week's lection could focus more on the symbolism of flesh and blood, this reading really pivots on this moment of rejection, a major theme in all the gospels.

Preaching Possibilities

There is real power in recognizing the up and downs of life. We need to admit that sometimes our loyalty comes and goes. So, you could almost say that many of us are fair weather fans of God. The real question in this mornings lection is where is your loyalty? We all know we have moments when we reject God and loose our faith. Another way to see this is that we all have the penchant to be fair weather fans. We all can easily be disloyal to God and to his son Jesus.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

A fan of a sports team who only shows support when the team is doing well. During hard times they usually get on the bandwagon of other teams. They basically have no real loyalty to the team, but still manage to get better seats than you at the game. Strangely they mysteriously vanish at the first sign of trouble.
Fair Weather Fan's creed: Last to join, first to leave.

Fan loyalty is the loyalty felt and expressed by a fan towards the object of his/her fanaticism. Allegiances can be strong or weak. The loyalties of sports fans have been studied by psychologists, who have determined several factors that create such loyalties. Fan loyalty can be threatened by team actions.
Given the extensive costs involved in managing and operating a professional team sport, it is beneficial for sports marketers to be conscious of the elements that establish a strong brand and the effect they have on fan loyalty, so they can best cater to their current fans while acquiring new ones. This is because fans and spectators are considered key stakeholders of professional sports organizations. Fans directly and indirectly influence the production of operating revenue through purchasing merchandise, buying game tickets and improving the value that can be obtained from television broadcasting deals and sponsorship. Therefore, fans are a key factor to consider in determining the economic success of a sports club.
Deep psychological connections with new teams can be built with individuals before a team has even played a match revealing insights can develop quickly in the mind of consumers without direct encounters or experiences e.g. watching a team compete. Brand management approaches are helping sport organizations to expand the sport experience, appeal to new fans and enable long term business to consumer relationships through multi-faceted connection such as social media. To effect consumers’ loyalty with a team, they must develop a compelling, positive and distinctive brand in order to stand out amongst competitor and vie for fan support.
Loyalty programs positively shape fan attachment and behavior as it connects teams and their fans, aside from a club’s season ticketholder database. It not only provides marketers with essential information about consumers and their thinking, but also acts as a channel to promote attendance and an opportunity to add value to their game day experience.
Fan loyalty, particularly with respect to team sports, is different from brand loyalty, in as much as if a consumer bought a product that was of lower quality than expected, he or she will usually abandon allegiance to the brand. However, fan loyalty continues even if the team that the fan supports continues to perform poorly year after year. Author Mark Conrad uses the Chicago Cubs as an example of a team with a loyal fan following, where fans spend their money in support of a poorly performing team that (until 2016) had not won a pennant since 1945 or a World Series since 1908.
Several psychologists have studied fan loyalty, and what causes a person to be a loyal fan, that sticks with a team through adversity (win or lose), rather than a bandwagon fan or Fairweather fan, that switches support to whatever teams happen to be successful at the time. These include Dan Wann, a psychologist at Murray State University, psychologist Robert Passikoff.
They attribute it to the following factors:
Entertainment Value
Authenticity
Fan Bonding
Fan bonding is where a fan bonds with the players, identifying with them as individuals, and bonds with the team.
Team History and Tradition
Group Affiliation
There are Fair Weather or Bandwagon Fans and Die-hard Fans. These are the fans who follow their team no matter if they are winning or losing.
Emotional connection is central to fan loyalty and therefore is important for brands to promote it on their social media by reinforcing user trust in their site page. By communicating to the consumer about how much the brand is considering them, it increases consumer trust as they feel cared for by the brand. A brand’s fan page must also align with their out workings such as delivering items in the time guaranteed on their social media pages to ensure a message of honesty, competence and trustworthiness is communicated to the consumer. To ensure customers consider an encounter with the page valuable and worthwhile, brands need to improve the usefulness of their page by offering exclusive offers only available through a given touchpoint e.g. a 20% off selected merchandise voucher only offered to those who have subscribed to the mailing list. Exclusivity encourages fan loyalty as it fosters the emotional connection of the fan feeling like a part of the team or brand’s inner circle.
Fan pages also allow for customer-to-customer connections where they can interact and share a brand’s page content, such as ‘sharing’ the brand’s post on Facebook, as well as sharing user-generated content. Other consumers can then use the ‘reaction’ button and comment thread on Facebook to communicate their response allowing for brand managers to gauge their fans’ feeling and opinions, strengthening the brand-customer relationship.

When i was 10 years old, I was brainwashed. It was a perfectly legal maneuver. My uncle, who lived in New York City, observed that I liked to play baseball and took great care to impress upon me the superiority of the Yankees. This was the mid-1990s, an auspicious time to be hypnotized by pinstripes. Led by a telegenic talent who shared my first name, the team achieved dynastic dominance before the end of the decade.
I grew up in McLean, Virginia, some 300 miles from the Bronx, but my parents stood by and allowed the indoctrination. My mom regarded sports the way a vegan looks at a porterhouse steak, while my dad’s appraisal of the Washington, D.C., sports scene was straightforward: The Redskins were sinfully bad, the Bullets were worse, and hockey was too boring to merit an opinion. Lacking an appealing hometown team, I became a kind of free-agent fan, seeking out teams—the Yankees, the Miami Heat, the Indianapolis Colts—with likable stars. A winning percentage north of .500 didn’t hurt, either.
And so, without intending to adopt any sort of triumphalist attitude toward sports, I became that most despised of figures in the eyes of the diehard: a fair-weather fan. For most of my life, this has been a heavy shame. I have muttered shy apologies to friends for not standing by the hometown teams, even as most of them failed to escape the vortex of mediocrity.
When I hear “once in a lifetime,” I think: Only once? Why is fleeting happiness a worthwhile trade-off for decades of agony?
But I’m done apologizing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’m right and everybody else is wrong. Rooting for winners is more than acceptable—it’s commendable. Fans shouldn’t put up with awfully managed teams for decades just because their parents liked those teams, as if sports were governed by the same rules and customs as medieval inheritance. Fans should feel free to shop for teams the way they do for any other product.
What I’m proposing here is a theory of fluid fandom that would encourage, as opposed to stigmatize, promiscuous sports allegiances. By permanently anchoring themselves to teams from their hometown or even an adopted town, sports fans consign themselves to needless misery. They also distort the marketplace by sending a signal to team owners that winning is orthogonal to fans’ long-term interests. Fluid fandom, I submit, is the emotionally, civically, and maybe even morally superior way to consume sports.
Fair-weather fan is a slur I have long endured but never understood. (Only in a country with tens of millions of citizens rooting for regular losers based north of the 40th parallel—in such climes as Buffalo, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis—could one sneer at the idea of “fair weather.”) The accusation is typically leveled by members of the many wretched tribes of sports addicts whose allegiances are dictated by geography or some cruel family curse. When Charles Darwin wrote of man bearing “the indelible stamp of his lowly origins,” he referred to all Homo sapiens, but the phrase might better fit its most sorrowful subspecies: people who still watch the Cleveland Browns.
I can hear the critics now: What of loyalty? What of the ecstatic, once-in-a-lifetime feeling of having endured decades of failure only to be present at the championship moment?
When I hear “once in a lifetime,” I think: Only once? Why is fleeting happiness a worthwhile trade-off for decades of agony? The belief that eventual victory will bring lasting happiness is a classic delusion; behavioral psychologists chalk it up to the “durability bias.” People assume that all sorts of positive events—a promotion, a wedding, a championship—will punch a ticket to permanent happiness. But no such ticket exists. All life is suffering, as Buddhists and Buffalo Bills fans will attest, and the suffering of sports fans is a biological fact. Studies led by researchers at the University of Utah and Indiana University have found that self-esteem, mood, and even testosterone levels plummet in male fans after a loss. Why relegate yourself to such misery?
According to Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who has written prolifically about the financial aspects of sports, state and local governments in the United States have spent up to $24 billion on professional, amateur, and college stadiums since 1990. That is far beyond any sum the community value of a team could justify. In fact, some studies suggest that sports franchises might have a small negative effect on economic activity and employment. Not only do their stadiums tend to offer mostly part-time or temporary work, but they funnel local spending—which might otherwise go to an array of restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and cinemas—into the pockets of millionaire athletes and billionaire owners.
When fat-cat owners aren’t begging cities for money, they’re raking it in from you, the ever-loyal fan. In the 2016–17 season, when the New York Knicks went 31–51, the team nonetheless received $10 million more from television deals than the NBA’s six lowest-earning teams combined, because millions and millions of fans refuse to give up on an owner who has repeatedly insulted them with poor management and ragtag teams. The Knicks haven’t made the conference finals in the 21st century. But what urgency does James Dolan, the Knicks owner, feel to build a more competitive squad when he knows that you and Spike Lee will be there through thick and thin?
Of course, a devoted fan base doesn’t necessarily give rise to a crappy team; the Yankees are almost never bad. The point is that unconditional devotion permits incompetent management to go unpunished. In a world of more-fluid fandom, Dolan couldn’t count on inelastic demand for his terrible product. Last summer, on draft night, with the Knicks holding the eighth pick, Dolan skipped the event to play a gig with his blues band. This man is not loyal to you. Why are you loyal to him?
Whether or not traditionalists approve of it, however, a new age of fandom may be emerging, one that is less arbitrary and shifts the balance of power to fans. For starters, fantasy sports allow anyone to build teams comprising athletes from across a given league. Inevitably, fantasy sports muddy hometown alliances by encouraging people to root for stars outside their media market, stars whose success might well come at the expense of the local team. What’s more, because fantasy teams draw players from all over a given league, they require users to follow an entire sport, pulling attention away from any one team and its traditional rivals.
Abandoning the hometown team is hardly a sacrifice in an age of sports-viewing packages—MLB at Bat, for example, or NBA League Pass—that allow people to pay a flat fee and see most games around the country. These packages make it easier to root for far-flung teams.
Seismic shifts in the leagues themselves are also accelerating change. Savvy coaches and team owners, many supported by advanced analytics, trade players when their value peaks, even if that means shipping off hometown heroes still in their prime. It’s a business goes the standard defense of such moves. In the past, players have been pilloried for having the gall to pursue their own self-interest, financial or otherwise, in choosing which team to play for. But that stigma is disappearing. Stars now routinely use their free agency to maximize their salary or shop for championship-contending teams, challenging the assumption that they owe a vassal’s fealty to owners who themselves display no such loyalty. In turn, fans are further encouraged toward a more Marxist view of the sporting world, where allegiances flow through labor (individual players) rather than through capital (franchises).
Some might fear that my proposal will lead to a new age of inequality in which everyone roots for the winners, leaving struggling franchises to wallow in the basement. I’m not too concerned. American sports have a Marxist tradition of their own, in which leagues redistribute the wealth of successful big-market teams and otherwise encourage parity. The poorest teams receive the equivalent of welfare paid out of shared television revenue, and the poorest-performing teams typically get the top draft picks. What none of these teams will get, if fluid fandom catches on, is a guarantee that local fans will watch and attend games should teams fail to invest those handouts wisely.
After the New York Yankees, my most embarrassing fair-weather allegiance is to LeBron James. In 2016, James won the NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in a dramatic seven-game series. With blanched knuckles, I watched the final game from a New York City bar with two brothers of Iranian descent whose parents lived in Puerto Rico. None of us had the slightest connection, ancestral or autobiographical, to northeast Ohio. But when time expired, we screamed in joy, jumped up and down, and embraced total strangers. A traditionalist would argue that we’d cheated by cutting to the front of some imaginary line snaking toward such championship glories. Sure, maybe I enjoyed the victory a bit less than some long-suffering Clevelander. But unlike that fan, I’ve got James’s 2019 title with the Los Angeles Lakers to look forward to. (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/05/in-praise-of-fair-weather-fandom/556841/)

Sometimes people challenge or confront us to find out how dedicated, gifted or committed we are. When I entered college, I was just smart enough to qualify for both Chemistry 1 and Calculus. Both instructors announced to their forty odd students that it was their job to eliminate as many of us as possible. The attrition was high: there were only about seven of us remaining in each class at semester's end. I did poorly enough that I decided to change my major! But I did stick it out to the bitter end and received an average grade for each class. Though I was now clearer about where my strengths lay, I was also gratified that I had stayed the course. But it was clear from the outset that these wise instructors believed it was a kind of tough love to weed out the unqualified, unequipped and uncommitted.

I had a Junior High Biology teacher who taught more than biology. He announced at the beginning of the semester that he was also going to teach us organization and preparedness. It was important that the material in our notebooks be safe and secure. He told us that from time to time, without warning, he might hold up our notebooks by the spine and shake them and throw away anything that fell out. Nobody believed him_ until one day he made good on his promise! From that day on, we were all prepared, safe and secure. But his credibility was not established until he acted on his promise, just as the disciples could not accept or comprehend the cross until they saw Jesus hanging there—and then most of them were too frightened and ashamed to stay around.

Our youngest son is about to embark on postgraduate study in the application of pure mathematics to biological theory. He told me recently that Einstein's General Theory of relativity provided a theoretical foundation for physics and cosmology that may well keep researchers busy for five hundred years. Indeed, every year more experiments are completed that seem to support yet another aspect of Einstein's theories. When the special and general theories of relativity were first published, only a handful of scientists worldwide could even begin to comprehend them. In the same way, the teachings of Jesus were hard to understand and accept, and many, perhaps a majority, of the earliest disciples beyond the twelve drifted away. Only after his death on the cross, and his resurrection appearances, were disciples able to look back and begin to grasp his meaning.

The current economic downturn is sobering but healthy in some ways, though sad for the many who have lost jobs in the shrinking economy. Just recently, my wife and I attended a concert given by the local Philharmonic orchestra, playing with a world class violinist. But before the concert began, there was a presentation by the Arts Association board president, who announced that the orchestra was $300,000 short in its fund raising for that year, fully one third of their annual budget! I don't know how her appeal for funds is going, but I know that this is a test of loyalties. As times got tough for Jesus and his disciples, their loyalty was tested again and again. Would they stay? Or would they, like others, also go away when the winds of public opinion turned nasty?

The melancholy of leadership can be seen in the photographs of Presidents of the United States when they are first inaugurated, compared with four or eight years later when they leave office. Whether looking at Abraham Lincoln or Bill Clinton, one can see the marks of age, stress, anguish, the inertia of bureaucracy and the loneliness of power.

The accomplishment of most great tasks requires a persistence and dogged determination that exhausts the fainthearted. Edison tried for more than a year through hundreds of trials before settling on a high resistance carbon thread filament that would work in the first practical, low-current, long-lasting light bulb. His dogged determination, which exhausted many other researchers, paid off in the end, and gave him ascendance in the field of incandescent lighting.

We sometimes have to ask ourselves, "What have I done that caused this person to disbelieve or lose heart?" Or "What did I say that confused or disheartened this person?" Or "Am I part of the problem?" When people leave the church, or go look somewhere else for strength or comfort? Or is the problem with the person?

One of the hardest things to admit is our own limitations. I have sometimes tried to help people and had to admit that I didn't understand their problem personally enough to really empathize. We also have to admit that the other person must perceive their problem deeply and responsibly enough to want to change. When that door opens, then sometimes we can be used by God to become a bridge of communication between that spiritually hungry person and the Holy Spirit.

Many people have great difficulty believing God loves them, and they really believe God is punishing them with bad fortune, illness, or trouble. They may become discouraged and hide from others in the church whom they perceive to be better, wiser, stronger or more spiritually minded than they are. My father, though he was an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church and had heard years of preaching, and read the Bible regularly, thought God might be punishing him with illness for some weakness or poor judgment or unknown sin. There is strange comfort in thinking that even those who knew Jesus in the flesh became discouraged, failed to understand what he was getting at, and many fell away. According to this passage, even the twelve did not fully understand him, but they had become convinced he was the son of God, and faith in him overcame their concerns.

Why some come to faith and others don't seems often to be a mystery. Several years ago, a graduate student showed up in the congregation I serve and asked to be baptized. He had nothing going for him that would have predisposed him to faith. He grew up in an unbelieving family in Utah, had never attended worship, was a Ph.D. candidate in chemical physics and a natural skeptic. Someone lent him a book by C.S. Lewis, and suddenly, he said, all sorts of things fell into place for him. It was through no effort on the part of his friend, or of myself or the congregation I served. God spoke to him through a book (and not the Bible, mind you!) he was convinced, and came to be baptized. After completing his Ph.D., he attended seminary, and today works in our denominational headquarters. His faith is still strong, though he has weathered many personal disappointments and trials. So, when Jesus said ". . . no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." (John 6:65) we understand that winning others to faith is not a simple matter of convincing logic or overwhelming evidence. It has perhaps more to do with the mysterious leading of the Spirit, the Father's voice calling, the sovereignty of God.

After Jesus' bold words, his popularity certainly plummeted. Even today, Christians don't usually rank too high in opinion polls. According to a Barna Research poll conducted last fall, one of the reasons it is so hard to attract non-Christians to church is because many non-Christians have negative thoughts about what Christians are like. The poll results indicated that less than a third of non-Christian adults have a positive impression of born-again Christians and less than a fourth have a favorable opinion of evangelicals. Less than half of those surveyed said they had a positive impression of ministers.

If Jesus had been advised by modern-day political consultants, he would have been told that his approach was all wrong. Political marketers today speak of the "law of minimal effects." That refers to the assumption that political campaigns tend to have little impact on changing the attitudes of voters. Therefore, if candidates want to attract crowds of followers, candidates need to adjust their positions to match those of the electorate and not assume that the candidate will be able to bring about significant changes among the voters. Jesus obviously didn't adopt that approach in his speaking to the crowds that followed him.

Some might label England and Wales as fair-weather followers of Jesus. Although most people in those lands do not attend church very often, they still identify themselves as Christians. It is estimated that only about one million Anglicans in England and Wales regularly participate in Sunday services. Corresponding with that decline in worship attendance is a decline in biblical knowledge. When one bishop, in his Christmas sermon, referred to the holy family's flight to Egypt following Jesus' birth, reporters flooded him with calls wanting to know where he had come up with that idea. A recently baptized adult was not aware that the Lord's Prayer could be found in the Bible. She had been searching for it in a collection of poems and, not being able to find it, wondered if the book containing the prayer was out of print.

Although human life spans have been increasing in recent decades, we are nowhere near achieving eternal life apart from Jesus. Historians report that the world has seen three periods where longevity markedly increased, and the 21st century will likely bring a fourth such period of increased life spans. The first period of increase occurred between 2.5 million and 100,000 years ago. The second wave of increase in life expectancy took place during the Neolithic era, about 12,000 years ago when animal husbandry and farming were established. At that point, the average life expectancy may have been about 20 years. Starting in the 18th century, with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, life expectancies rose again. In the United States, the average life span rose from about 33 years in 1776 to 47 years in 1900. Today the average life expectancy is up to 77 years.

Particularly in the Gospel of John, Jesus employs a number of "aliases." For instance, in John, Jesus is called the Good Shepherd, the Vine, the Light of the world, the Resurrection and the Life, and of course, the Bread of life. People who are familiar with Jesus right away recognize to whom those alternate names refer. In show business, though, probably only those closest to these stars would be able to make a connection between their birth names and their commonly used names today. For instance, Alan Alda was born Alphonso D'Abruzzo; Woody Allen was Allen Konigsberg; Jack Benny was Benjamin Kubelsky; Bono was Paul Hewson; George Burns was Nathan Birnbaum; Judy Garland was Frances Gumm; Whoopi Goldberg was Karyn Johnson; and Roy Rogers was Leonard Franklin Slye.

A life of faith is certainly not a merely fair-weather activity. Rather than abandoning their faith, the Jews of the first century opposed the Roman attempts to subject them to pagan beliefs. The price they paid, though, was with their very lives. The historian Josephus reports that 1.1 million Jews died during Titus's siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Roman historian Tacitus put the number at six hundred thousand. The number was so large because the attack came during the Passover season when pilgrims had significantly swollen the normal resident population.

Making a commitment to be with someone and stay with that person is not always an easy thing to do. To assist in the process of helping single people find someone they want to be with, a new craze in London is called "speed-dating." A recent speed-dating event sold out when nearly 1,000 young singles showed up, despite Britain's reputation for being reserved. Speed-dating involves couples sitting together at a table for about three minutes. At the end

of that time, a whistle is blown, each man moves to the next table to meet a new woman, and the process keeps repeating throughout the evening.

What Jesus says in this Gospel passage is shocking compared to the relatively tame teachings that we often tend to assign to Jesus. Stanley Hauerwas, a professor at Duke, asserts that one of the problems with most mainline churches is that they have reduced Jesus' sharp-edged teachings to "God is nice so we should be nice, too."

In uttering words that somewhat sounded like cannibalism, Jesus apparently crossed the line of what was considered socially acceptable by his audience. Today we find that it is increasingly socially unacceptable to make explicit or implicit faith statements of any kind. A survey in Personnel Journal found that 40% of human resource managers say their companies have policies in place that forbid wearing religious symbols or having religious articles anywhere in the workplace. Most indicate that the policies were instituted to head off possible lawsuits by those who might feel offended by such religious material.

If we think that crowd had a hard time digesting what Jesus was trying to teach them, we need to realize how hard it is for non-Americans to try and understand the English language. At times, English can be nearly as incomprehensible as what Jesus was saying. To drive home the point of how difficult the English language is, and to promote a reform in English spelling, the playwright George Bernard Shaw used this example to demonstrate how variable and unreasonable the English language can be. To illustrate, he used the imaginary word "ghoti." and claimed that the word should be pronounced "fish." He reached that conclusion by using the "gh." sound in "rough, "the "o." sound in "women, "and the "ti." sound in "nation."

What Jesus says in this passage certainly sounds like a lot like cannibalism. It's like that soccer team some years ago whose plane crashed in the Andes Mountains, and to survive they took turns eating some of their teammates. Or in American history, there was the Donner party, that group of settlers who got lost in the mountains out west; and when their food supply ran out, they resorted to cannibalism. The fact is that in the first centuries of Christianity, Christians were often accused of being cannibals. Their neighbors would hear them talking about eating Jesus' flesh and drinking Jesus' blood—so what else could the neighbors take that to mean?

I'm not a big bread eater. So, when I walked down the bread aisle in the supermarket the other day, I realized that I had forgotten how many different kinds of bread there are. There were hamburger buns, hot dog buns, bagels. There were English muffins, French bread, Italian bread. There was whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel. There was butter top bread. There was reduced fat bread. After a while, it started to get a bit stressful, looking at what seemed to be a half mile long row of nothing but different kinds of bread. Which kind of bread did I want? Finally, I just closed my eyes, grabbed a loaf from the shelf, and headed for the checkout line. It's kind of interesting if you go to a bookstore like Barnes & Nobles, because in the nonfiction section, there are always two kinds of books that seem to head up their best-seller lists: cookbooks and diet books. On the one hand, we're always looking for new and improved ways to stuff our stomachs. But then when we discover that those foods don't satisfy us in the way we had hoped, we look for ways to get rid of what we've eaten so we can make room to try something else. In the same way, when it comes to spirituality, many people today tend to gorge themselves on what the latest spiritual guru has to say. But over time, when that proves to be lacking something, they look for a way to remove that from their lives so they can be free to try something else.

A few years ago, there was a story in the news about a camp in Florida, operated by the Boys & Girls Club. One day the camp was scheduled to have a talent show. But an 8-year-old girl was told that she couldn't perform, because her song was deemed to be inappropriate. Her song was "Kumbayah." The camp officials said that since "Kumbayah." includes the word "Lord." in the lyrics, they couldn't allow it. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone being converted to Christianity because of hearing "Kumbayah." But apparently that camp figured that just like a little bit of poison is too much, a little bit of Jesus is likewise too much. Many people seem to be fearful of getting too close to Jesus, for fear of the ways that Jesus might try to change their lives.

In a way, you might say that Jesus' message boiled down to "you are what you eat." Last year a lawsuit was filed against McDonald's, alleging that the fast-food giant was responsible for a person's obesity. Last fall a Northeastern University law professor held a closed-door strategy session for approximately 100 attorneys who are interested in pursuing litigation against "Big Fat." in the same way that other lawyers took on Big Tobacco.

How much loyalty do you have to a cause? In the case of Jesus, he discovered that some of his followers were not as loyal as he might have thought. Some colleges have come up with a new way to promote school loyalty. Through a company called Collegiate Memorials, it is now possible to be buried in a college-themed casket. The company currently sells caskets tailored to about 45 schools across the United States. Purchasers say they like the caskets, which come in the school colors and are complete with the school's insignia embroidered inside the lid, because there is a growing trend to personalize funerals. Some people have a real dedication to their alma mater, and having a casket that expresses that devotion seems to be of interest to a increasing number of people. The caskets, which range in cost from $3,250 to $4,900, are priced about $350 higher than comparable non-collegiate caskets. The respective colleges also share in the venture, receiving a royalty of about 9% in addition to annual licensing fees. The University of Nebraska casket was the top seller in 2001, with 50 being sold. Other popular schools are Alabama, Kentucky, Auburn, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. During the current year, the casket company hopes to expand its services to cover at least 200 colleges.

How do we know that the disciples misunderstood Jesus when he said, "I am the bread of life.”? Because the disciples suddenly began to shower Jesus with compliments—they thought Jesus would like it if they "buttered." him up.

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Leader: How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
People: My soul longs—even faints—for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Leader: Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself and her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
People: Blessed are those who dwell in your hose, ever singing your praise!

Prayer of Confession

Merciful God, we have not been the disciples that you would have us to be. We like to think of ourselves as the original twelve; we remain when others draw back. But we have drawn back, O Lord. Our bodies may come to worship you, but our hearts and minds have wandered from your way. Forgive us, O God. Grant us the strength to follow you, truly and rightly, down the path of holy living. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Gracious God, we bring these gifts to you with an earnest prayer for their use—that they may build a house for you. We pray that you would reside here—among our community and our world—transforming our lives of sin into lives of holiness. Grant that these gifts would be used toward that end, that our world would be your temple, sacred and holy. In Christ we pray, Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Heavenly God, sometimes we just don't have the strength to follow you. Relying on ourselves, we get nowhere. But you've given us the resources to be strong: the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit. Help us to put on this armor, so that this world of sin would be won for your kingdom. Not by military might, not by empire or by terror, but by a gospel of peace may our world become a holy place.
We pray for those in political power, as well as those "on the street." You have given each and every one of us different opportunities to serve you and live a holy life. Some have the power to command others, others have the power to follow (or not). Whatever our station in life, grant us the strength to persevere, moving toward holiness in all we do. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.